Campus History: What do we take with us?

I’m currently in my fourth year at Auburn, and in that short time there is one event in particular which stands out to me in terms of its historical significance. Two years ago, The Auburn City Council was informed that the Cullars House, a historic house built in the late 19th century at the intersection of S. College St. and Samford Ave., would soon be torn down.

For over a century this house had stood as a landmark in Auburn. In fact, the Cullars of the Cullars House were a family of builders who were responsible for much of the construction of Samford Hall after Old Main burned down. The house had not been a residence for over a decade, but even as office space it was considered by many to be an important part of Auburn’s past. Regardless, a developer in Birmingham had bought the property and wanted the lot cleared.

Dozens of citizens across Auburn started a campaign to try to save the house. There were plans to buy back the lot, to pay off the developer somehow, or to attempt to move the house elsewhere. This last option became the focus after the developer said he would only sell the property for a *lot* of money. So, the groups and individuals who wanted to save the Cullars House began to devise ways to move the house. The problems that come with moving a house that more than 100 years old are not trivial. How do you move it? Where do you move it to? What do you do with it when you put it there? Unfortunately for the residents who wanted to preserve this house, all of the answers to those questions came with hefty price tags.

I don’t remember exactly how much it would have cost to move the house, but I do know that it was over $1 million. There were debates in City Council about publicly funding the project, and I think the questions that were asked and answered in the dingy courtroom which served as council chambers two years ago speak to how we as rather intelligent primates understand the history of our surroundings.

I say that because the ultimate decision reached by the Council and most of the residents was that this house was not worth the cost to save it. Instead, people said they preferred that the City spend money on public transportation or infrastructure repairs. Even though this house was clearly historic, not enough people in the community believed it held enough value to be saved from the oblivions of time. This, I think, gets back to the title of this entry. How do we, as a collective, decide what pieces of our past to take with us? We obviously can’t keep everything; there’s only so many bookshelves, hard drives, or property lots. So, in the deluge of modern construction and production, what do we deem worthy of preservation? Furthermore, what do our answers say about our present?

Campus History

I have been in Auburn for the majority of my life – about fourteen of my twenty-three years. Through the years I have seen almost every aspect of campus change in one way or another. There have been new buildings built, old ones torn down, new roads and walkways, but the most profound change that I have seen on campus is the Memorial Garden on the corner of Samford Avenue and Mell Street. This project is my favorite because it is an ever-changing way for Auburn’s history to be renewed yet preserved. Students, faculty, and family members are always welcome to come and walk amongst the garden and enjoy the serene environment while reflecting on life. This memorial is one way that Auburn has improved its PDH (public displays of history). I like that this public historical monument is always taking on new meaning. It isn’t meant to memorialize one moment in history, or one person, or set of people. It is always gathering new meaning and significance. For example, the 9/11 memorial in New York City is a beautiful way to remember what happened on that tragic day. The monument’s intended meaning, to memorialize those who lost their lives on that day, is set in stone. No people will be added to it. With Auburn’s memorial, there is new meaning attached every year. It pays homage to past students, faculty, and members of the family while gaining new significance every day. I think Auburn hit a home run with this memorial. The city/university has quite a lot of historic markers, yet this was a very creative way to turn an old piece of property into a revitalized public history space. When I first moved here, there was nothing more than a few markers at random spots, and the university didn’t really have much to honor its history. The library occasionally had a small local history display, but that was about it. Now we have professors collaborating with students to create things like the Creed Week in which we honor the university’s creed and its past over the span of the week. We have the memorial garden and statue honoring influential female leaders. We have a hall honoring the history of our athletic department. Our department also hosts numerous events at Pebble Hill to educate members of the community on our past and how we should move forward. Overall, I think as time passes, Auburn is doing more and more outstanding work honoring our history and using it to create a narrative that we work into today’s world.

My time at Auburn

I am currently a senior at Auburn University, and I plan on graduating in the spring. Over time while attending Auburn University I have seen many changes throughout the universities’ campus. I think the one of the biggest changes that has occurred throughout Auburn’s landscape that I have noticed would be the addition to the business school and adding the graduate business building on the corner of Donahue and Magnolia. This addition to Auburn Universities’ already growing campus will be extremely beneficial to our ability to appeal to not only high school kids looking to apply but also college graduates looking to expand their knowledge in their field of study. 

While going to class or driving around town there are many different chances you have to see different historical markers or historical monuments. One of the many historical markers that I have been able to interact with and learn about has been the Crescent Trail marker. I was able to learn about this very unique historical marker and its significance in a class I took this time last year. Another historical marker I can tell you about is the Veterans memorial across from 160 Ross. But to be completely honest I could not tell you any major historical markers located on campus that I have been able to interact with. At my time at Auburn University I have experienced a whole new wave of Auburn. Auburn University today is moving towards a more progressive school. In today’s time especially with the Black Lives Matter movement there has been a huge wave of demands to rename buildings and take down statues that have ties to racist origins. I do personally agree that it is the right thing to do to rename these buildings if the origins of the buildings are in fact offensive and have been named after someone who was racist. I am very proud to say I go to Auburn University and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for Auburn as a whole.   

The Auburn Landscape

As a new student at Auburn I was lost in the vastness of campus and even today knowledge of Wellness-Kitchen escapes me. The markers I’ve seen on campus have often been small ones talking about donors and founders, but off-campus I’ve seen many markers that talk about the area’s history and these markers tell plenty about the past. Auburn history is tied to more than just the University and by examining markers scattered around town that becomes very apparent. One of my favorite markers is located just off of U.S. Highway 280. This marker was the subject of a project I did a couple of semester ago on a part of Auburn known as The Bottle. It’s probably one of the coolest historic markers in Auburn because of it’s subject, which was a gas station shaped like a giant bottle of Nehi soda. I’ve learned most of what I know from unofficial markers on campus, such as the unofficial Frisbee golf course that weaves across campus from the lathe by Samford Hall to behind the science center. Each part of the course is marked by an Auburn University building or a historic part of campus and although there are some fillers to move you around some buildings the course lends itself to being a fun way to learn about campus and it’s layout. I’m unsure who started the frisbee golf trail, but I’ve seen other students play it at night and I believe it’s got a bit of an underground following with frisbee players.

I’ve now been in Auburn for 5 years and over that time I haven’t seen too much change in the way Auburn history has been expressed. On walks to class over the years I always caught tour groups giving the same words to crowds day-in and day-out. The written history of Auburn may have been changing, but the oral history has remained constant throughout my time here at the University. The oral history of Auburn starts with the Auburn Creed and ends with the Kick Six. The only changes I’ve seen to Auburn history has been it’s fleshing out of building namesakes. The expansion on the history building names currently is very surface level and focused on buildings whose names tie to the Confederacy or White Supremacy, but I hope all buildings receive a deep analysis of their namesakes with the history behind them. I would also like to see a effort to work on regional history with regards to the Universities founding and development.

Auburn University, The Loveliest Village on the Plains

I was introduced to Auburn University in 1991, when my then boyfriend brought me to Auburn for his 10th high school Class Reunion. He proposed to me at the Auburn University Hotel and Conference Center. I said Yes!

We have live in 2 Countries, 4 states, and traveled to many countries and cities. In almost every place that we have been, the call of “WAR EAGLE” meets us, as we wear our Auburn Gear proudly wherever we go.

Our last Military move brought us close to his home so we bought a home in Beauregard and he has since retired. He proudly went to Auburn and graduated with his Masters degree. He has since gotten his Doctorate.

The only thing my husband has really wanted for me to do was for me to get my degree from Auburn. This will be accomplished in December, 2020. Although I am a Georgia Girl, I proudly yell War Eagle!

I went to my first Auburn football game and was amazed at the way that the fans were so kind and inviting to people from their rivals’ camp, offering food and drink to anyone that wanted to stop for a few minutes and chat.  Southern hospitality at it’s finest.

I have seen many changes at the university, the main highlight for myself being the instillation of the statue of Cam Newton.  Watching this young man bring Auburn to such a great level of sportsmanship was a highlight to Auburn and the surrounding towns.

Changes made to the university include new housing for the football players, dorms, and parking areas. Updating the university is a constant and ongoing occurrence.  There is always some type of progress being made to enhance the University.

I have had to privilege to meet some of Auburn’s greats, Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, Ben Leard, Cam Newton, and my husband’s cousin, Reese Dismukes, and they all show their love and pride in having had the honor and privilege to attend Auburn University.

Auburn University isn’t just the buildings , dorms, arenas, or the statues that are located around the campus. Auburn University is the faculty, the staff, and the students who represent Auburn, it’s qualities, honor, pride, and love of the Loveliest Village on the Plains.

War Eagle!

Auburn: The past and the future

Right now, the fall semester of the year 2020 is about to end and I am a senior looking to graduate within half a year, looking back to the diverse experiences I had at Auburn truly brings back my memories. 

For starters, I came to this institution with the hope that I could recover from the damage I had done with a 1.7 GPA since I was studying pre-med at the previous school and I dropped out because I could not understand a single medical term. Auburn gave me the feeling of being welcomed from the start. When I first stepped on campus the buildings here were drastically different than that of my previous school in Massachusetts despite some buildings such as Samford hall and Comer hall are similar to the traditional style of buildings of early America. Students and faculty seemed occupied as they hurriedly walked past our orientation group, I did not know where my classroom is so I stopped and asked a person who was having breakfast on a bench if he knew where it was. He pointed out that it is situated in a specific part of the building and you can only access it from the back door, he even drew a diagram to guide me through the steps. When he was sure that I would not be lost again, he continued on with his breakfast. That day around noon I went to the Korean restaurant across from Samford hall to have lunch with a couple of my friends, the little joint was called Seoul BBQ, and I could still remember that it had the most amazing chicken soup I have ever tasted. It was also where me and my ex first found one another. As time went by the original ground where the restaurant used to be now stands a branch of the BBVA bank, symbolizing the transformation of the economic structure of Auburn.

            This is just one example of the change in Auburn, another one would be the rerouting of tiger transit. I have been here long enough to remember the time when West campus line still went through the apartments on magnolia avenue, when I was still in Auburn global housing at the Grove, I would take the tiger transit to school with 3-4 stops along the way. Students from different communities on magnolia avenue would either wait patiently for the bus or run consistently to catch the bus. It was a scene which I would never forget. However, since the introduction of the new route for West campus line, students who lived on magnolia avenue after the complex of Logan Square often found themselves driving to school since another unfamiliar line had replaced the West campus line. This change in transit service is to accommodate people who are living near the Grove but have no basic transportation. Time is the only continuum to measure the progress of change within a society, people change, so do cities. It is always good to change and adapt to a new environment and a new standard of living. 

Auburn is a college town with a spirit, but part of that spirit was based on slavery. The correct way to address such an issue is to work with the African American community in thoughtfully changing the Auburn landscape to a racist free society. Not just by tearing down buildings or altering their names to fit certain regulations. I look forward to seeing more change done over Auburn and the university campus. 

Confronting Auburn’s History

           

"1986, Auburn, Alabama, I was on my way to Atlanta with my girlfriend and before we got a half block we saw this. This was my corner. This was where I used to walk to get ice cream when I was a little boy, I couldn't believe what I was seeing, I told my girlfriend to pull over and I got out and confronted them, My girlfriend stood up and took this photo through the sunroof. These are my political views. This is America and it is for everybody."
“1986, Auburn, Alabama, I was on my way to Atlanta with my girlfriend and before we got a half block we saw this. This was my corner. This was where I used to walk to get ice cream when I was a little boy, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, I told my girlfriend to pull over and I got out and confronted them, My girlfriend stood up and took this photo through the sunroof. These are my political views. This is America and it is for everybody.” Bruce Larsen

Auburn, like most of the South, is a place rich in history; and like most of the South you have to look at the layer underneath the surface to find it. Sure, Auburn has a sense of heritage with old buildings like Samford Hall and statues of venerated athletes. However, past the old photos of Toomers and tales of eagles flying over football fields, the full past of Auburn goes mostly unacknowledged. Especially the history of non-white people who were not star athletes. Auburn has an historic marker about “Desegregation at Auburn” that talks about the efforts of Harold A. Franklin to desegregate Auburn. However, I don’t blame most people for not knowing its existence since located off to the side of RBD and Mary Martin Hall on a rarely traveled stretch of sidewalk. Maybe I’m being a bit glib, but the point is that Auburn’s memorial landscape (or lack thereof) is insufficient in acknowledging Auburn’s full history. There is no memorial or any sort of dedication to the men and women enslaved by the university’s founders. The only reference to near an Auburn building to slavery is the seldom read marker next to the University Chapel/Players Theatre stating it was built with bricks made by enslaved people. There is also no mention or memorial of the Creeks who lived in the area prior to their forced removal in the 1830s.

I have been at Auburn for going on five years now, and have seen very few efforts by the administrations to preserve Auburn’s history. The only new additions to this memorial landscape in my time have been a statue of Charles Barkley and one dedicating 125 years of women attending Auburn. I like these statues and their commemorated subjects; however, I still feel as though there is a lacking to acknowledge the full history of the university. Buildings still have the name of enslavers, KKK members, and segregationists on them. Which are seen as symbols of racism that make non-white students feel unwelcomed. Auburn acknowledges the higher rate of Black students leaving Auburn without a diploma, and their current program is selling “unity” t-shirts. Which is all well and good, but strikes me as performative at best. Auburn is still failing to acknowledge fully the dark parts of its past and then to try and make real reconciliation based on these truths. Instead, the University is interested in building new homogenous buildings for things like parking or the culinary arts. The university is focused on the past as a marketing tool or old buildings as targets of demolition to clean up the past and build something more marketable. It has fallen on professors and students to raise their voices and remember the past. Student groups like the Harold A. Franklin Society and efforts by faculty like Dr. Kenneth Noe and Dr. Kate Craig have worked to make us more aware of our past than any administration in my time.

Auburn University and Needed Change

           

            Being relatively new to Auburn and Auburn University, I did not know much about the campus other than the University owned a few plantation homes. Walking the campus during my first couple months here, I made connections to some of the names of buildings such as Comer Hall and the Graves Amphitheater. Other than being former Alabama governors, I knew B.B. Comer’s history of child labor at his Avondale Mills company and use of convict labor and of David Graves’s leadership within the KKK. Finding these names on buildings, especially that of Graves, proved an enormous surprise to me. Campuses throughout the country have buildings named for less than pure historical figures, but the experience of seeing it at my own university put into perspective the breadth of this issue. Through learning of names I didn’t recognize on buildings, I found that Auburn University should undertake a task to rename some of these buildings named for people who committed especially atrocious acts of inhumanity.

            Aside from buildings, another marker of history I noticed was the Civil War cannon lathe next to Samford Hall. This massive piece of machinery placed out in the open and under the weather elements not only shows the University’s attachment to Civil War history, but that they don’t value this artifact. Having the lathe here itself isn’t a problem, but I think it should be stored somewhere inside, with proper signage to explain the machine’s use and why it came to Auburn University. Its location now is often overlooked and the machine will eventually rust beyond repair.

            Overall, I truly believe that Auburn University has a history that should be expressed in place of names of prominent Alabama Confederates and white supremacists. Alumni and scholars who have gone on to complete great academic or humanitarian work could easily replace the names of Comer, Graves, and others on buildings. This symbolic act would create a more inclusive university experience as well as show that Auburn is a university willing to grow and adapt to change.

A Familial History of a Backyard and Its Landscape

The landscape evaluation I decided to ‘read’ is the backyard of a family home.  The house is nestled in the foothills of East San Jose a half-mile off the main road Alum Rock Avenue, otherwise known as California State Route 130.  The house is located in a cul-de-sac making for a quiet, tranquil neighborhood.  My mother and fathered purchased the home in 2000 as a real estate investment, and to provide housing for my maternal grandfather Guadalupe Rodriguez.  He lived in the house for the remainder of his life (nearly twenty years) significantly contributing to the landscape of the home by planting a wide variety of greenery.  Prior to my family’s ownership of the house, the Unrue family were the owners—my family and I do not recall the first names of the Unrues.  Their initial development of the landscape still predominantly characterizes the features of the back and front yards.

The backyard is a downward sloped hill and at the top of the hill where the house sits, one can experience an excellent view of downtown and south San Jose.  To enhance this view, the Unrues built a viewing deck and installed a patio space made of grey and pebbled concrete.  In the concrete, they left behind several mementos including what appears to be a railway spike, horseshoe, an adult and child handprint, and their family name etched into the cement, one dated 1975.  The Unrues built a wooden stairway that descends down the hill and tiered the hill into four levels, as well as built a fence at the top of the hill as a barrier.  They also planted several fruit trees, and numerous bushes in the backyard, especially on the tiered sections.  At the top of the hill they planted a mulberry tree that still contributes to the aesthetics of the landscape today.

When Guadalupe moved in, he contributed to the landscape of the backyard primarily by planting more greenery—a cactus and rose bushes from his hometown of Yahualica, Mexico as well as cherry, peach, and apricot trees.  He also planted two Chinese maple trees, a pine tree, a hibiscus tree, and oregano and mint plants.

During his life, the backyard was used for family social gatherings such as birthday parties.  They would be large gatherings consisting of immediate and extended family (mostly cousins).  These events were excellent environments to learn about family history or stories about the town of Yahualica where the maternal side of my family is from.

Over time, the original structures built by the Unrue’s deteriorated.  The fence that acted as a barrier between the top of the hill and the garden became overgrown with ivy and collapsed.  The wooden stairway has begun to collapse but is still usable, and the erosion of the hill has pushed the tiered sections to a slant.  Ivy has started to grow on a now ramshackle viewing deck.  In addition, several self-planted seeds have taken root growing a lemon tree and several unidentifiable deciduous trees.  Due to lack of care, time, and money most of the greenery has become overgrown.

The year after my grandfather passed away, I moved into the home with my fiancée.  As the newest residents we also contributed to the landscape of the backyard by planting more plants, caring for the plants my grandfather left us, and managing the overgrowth.  I significantly cut back tree branches and bushes, because the overgrowth obscured the view of the city.  My fiancée and I planted an herb garden, tomato plant, zucchini plant, sunflowers, and mint.  Since we moved in two months before the COVID-19 pandemic, our gatherings have been small and limited.  We hosted a Fourth of July barbeque for my immediate family and had only a small number of friends over for a visit.  However, once the pandemic passes, we intend on hosting more gatherings so other can enjoy the landscape of our living space and (hopefully) our hospitality.

A (Belated) Observation of a Mundane Landscape

Although the rain this weekend interfered with my ability to find a unique or interesting landscape to study, one that I thought would be interesting to use for this assignment was my apartment complex – Logan’s Square. I spend almost every day interacting with this environment somehow, yet I have never stopped to fully observe my surroundings before coming to this assignment. It was a nice break to pause and rediscover somewhere that has become so ordinary to me in the past few months.

I decided to observe my surroundings from the stairs right outside my front door, giving me a slightly higher vantage point since I am on the second story. Despite the man-made overabundance of buildings and cars, I was pleasantly surprised by the greenery that is consistently overlooked by those on a mission after leaving their apartment. There are many trees visible over the horizon of asphalt that assaults the eyes; the landscaping over the complex is particularly well maintained, as the bushes all appeared well-manicured and the grass, though a little soggy from the rains over the past few days, is still inexplicably green. Although I saw few people out and about while I was taking notes, the ones that I did were not at all surprising to me, as they were all white, male and female college-aged students coming and going from their respective apartments. A few brought out their dogs to use the restroom around the same time. Most of the noise stemmed from these two activities, as many cars were driving down the road, and dogs could be heard barking in the distance. As I mentioned, much of the area was damp from the previous rains, which also left an enjoyable musty smell in the air; however, it was a lot less pleasant when mixed with the car exhaust left in the wake of someone leaving the complex.

Even though I have stated this seems like a very mundane landscape to spend the time observing in such a detailed way, the major reason I found this activity to be interesting lies in its use as a transitional space. Very few of us would willingly spend time in a parking lot if not to either leave or return to your apartment; most of us are on autopilot from the moment we turn into the familiar surrounding, only thinking about what we need to do once we are finally home. By reading this environment, I was able to broaden my understanding of the scene and observe other people’s interactions with the setting, furthering my convictions that it is often overlooked and considered unremarkable. This area is mostly associated with transportation, transition, a “getting somewhere,” but lingering in this place conjured questions of “What was here before?” and “What was destroyed out of necessity for more caused by the growth of the university?” Researching deeper into the grounds that Logan’s Square now sits on would be fascinating and another layer of implications for the space.

Informational Interview – History across the pond

It’s been nearly a month, but I finally heard back from one of the public historians I reached out to for the informational interview. I emailed with Matt Seaver, an assistant keeper in the Irish Antiquities Division of the National Museum of Ireland.

Q: When you start putting together a body of research to tell stories, how do you go about finding the stories you want to tell?

A: Our stories in Archaeology come from talking about the national themes in our Islands past. These are broadly chronological and are driven by the surviving objects with the constraints that our historic building allows – for example the Mesolithic (our earliest time period of occupation from around 8000 BC) occupies a small area with stone lithic tools, stone axes and a preserved fish trap compared to our evidence for the Bronze Age which occupies a large area of the centre court of the museum and displays the spectacular Bronze Age gold and ceramic collections. More recently studies around the discovery of well preserved bog bodies of Bronze and Iron Age date led to an exhibition around the idea of Iron Age and Early Medieval Kingship and sacrifice. Equally our Viking Ireland gallery uses the vast collections from the Dublin excavations of the 1980’s to discuss the impact of the Vikings of our history and their transformative effect on the church and society. The Treasury contains the greatest treasures of Early medieval Ireland and charts the development of art styles and society during this time. The stories to tell are our national story – the past of the people of the island – the themes may reflect the research interests of individual curators but are vetted by a committee at a high level and must be relevant to our national story. These could hinge on concepts like the anniversary of a major event for example the Battle of Clontarf where the Irish High King Brian Boru defeated the Viking King of Dublin in 1014 or the anniversary of 1916 – the uprising which started our war of independence.  Updates to this story may come from new avenues like molecular biology and ancient DNA. The online space also allows us to develop more elaborate and larger narratives than the building will allow and that is something which we will be developing more in the coming years, particularly given the current situation with Covid-19 restrictions.

Q: After you have collected this body of research, how do you go about putting it into a cohesive narrative? What are some concerns that you have related to both of these processes?

A: Chronology is usually the hook around adding the objects around themes. We spend a lot of time obtaining C14 dates where possible or obtaining comparative dates. We have to be careful around sensitive issues; such as the display of human remains, how to communicate in ways which accommodate a pluralistic society. Narratives have to work around the audiences and the concepts must be readily explainable to an educated 14 year old in terms of literacy – our content needs to be accessible to all audiences. All of the subjects also need to be bilingual (Irish and English) so this restricts panel space, generally we can only have 200 words per panel. The art is trying to tell your story in a distilled way using as many images as possible in conjunction with the objects. The mounting and lighting of the objects is so important in order to highlight decoration, moods etc. We complement the core exhibitions with video and web content which allows the viewer/listener to dive deeper into researching a given topic.

Q: Why is it important to tell stories about the past?

A: Our multi stranded identity on this island comes directly from an understanding of the past. Archaeology shows that we are all migrants to this island and that there have been many different strands to our identity in the past. In Ireland elements our of our past are contested and it is important that the general public understand how these narratives came about. The relationship of our Island in a globalised world can be seen through our contacts outside the island in the past and allows us to accommodate change.

A New Perspective ?

  Beyond the Wok—A new face for Chinese food?

       Landscapes are places where people visit daily, some of them we never pay much attention to since it became familiar to us. But even a slight change in the shape of the landscape can alter our mood or perceptions for the day, so how do landscapes make you feel?

       Beyond the Wok Chinese restaurant is a place located a few blocks from downtown Auburn adjacent to the CVS on south college street. Despite having visited an abundance of eastern style Chinese restaurants in the area, I still get the sensation that this restaurant intrigues me in some way. For starters, the ceiling and the walls are painted orange to represent Auburn, there are slogans on the wall which read: “Go hit’em big blue!” and “Cheers for Auburn!”; the floor is moped clean with tables neatly organized into rows, hand sanitizers can be seen standing on top of every counter in the shop. It all indicates the cleanliness and the standard to which the food was prepared. In some similar restaurants instead of clean woks and backstage prep stations you can easily find food packages being place near raw food and some chefs picking up food from the ground and pours them into the wok again.

       From the most direct way of approach, music chimes can be heard from every direction casting off the walls, light shadows hang to the walls as if they were cute animals. Utensils are neatly packed for each customer and the aroma of the fresh ingredients firing up in the wok was something which reminded me of home and how my mother used to cook. Since COVID-19 is still around there isn’t much of a customer base for dining in, most people would get takeout as the food tastes almost the same as on a plate. I caught some distant chatter between two people arguing what is the best way to use chopsticks, one said to hold it with one hand and slice through the food, the other defended that one stick in each hand can serve as a fork and a knife. The atmosphere seemed light.

       Since we are both ethnically Chinese, I spoke in mandarin about the restaurant with the owner, he told me the only thing he is trying to improve is the visibility of the workstations to the customers. He plans to install windowpanes in front of those woks so the customers can see how their food is prepared. He further stated that he had visions for the restaurant that some day in the future it will become the most amazing joint near downtown Auburn. Their chef’s dedication to the authenticity of the dishes will for sure impress anyone looking for an home style cooking and dining experience. In the past when I relate to the word “Chinese Restaurant” I always think of people from Hong Kong or Fuzhou trying their best to speak English to their customers and the prep stations are always a mess. However, this restaurant hired some Auburn locals as servers so there would not be a translation issue. This small joint almost unnoticeable to the eye completely changed my perception, I sincerely hope it will alter the traditional views of the westerners to Chinese food as cheap and horrible to swallow to the new standard of Chinese cooking and hospitality.

The Wonders of a Landscape

This past week, I was able to experience one of my favorite landscapes in Alabama. That landscape is this incredibly old tree in my family’s home: Lamar County, Alabama. This tree has been the source of many good memories over the years: nature excursions, Sunday drives, peaceful Bible study, and many more. However, I have never sat and observed it for itself. As I sat in a chair under the shade of its massive branches, I began observing many things that I under-appreciated: Leaves, branches, vines, all blocking the beautiful sunshine of a fall day. Birds were in the air singing the song of creation, of new life. I found myself surrounded by various creatures, some seen, some unseen. No matter what position I was in, or where I was sitting, I found myself completely at peace. The serenity of God’s creation is second to none. I was only accessible by one small dirt road that winds through foliage for multiple miles before spitting you out at this tree. Green everywhere, thanks to cold fall being slightly delayed and many evergreens all around. I was at least ten miles from any people – maybe that’s why it’s so serene…. The landscape was teeming with life, and I a part of it. When standing at a different angle, the sun shines differently. I still see everything I already saw, but also, I see further down the road. There is still nothing but vegetation, dirt and animals as far as the eye can see. Everything is quiet. There is the occasional bird chirping or squirrel moving, but other than that, just the rustling of the leaves. I have never been in a more peaceful setting; it is completely serene, and I can think so well. I smell nature. I smell grass and clean, crisp air. The dirt has a slight smell to it, but it’s hard to describe. I love the way nature smells, like life. The landscape is rough, not comfortable, but raw. The weeds are not soft, but rugged, it’s not comfortable, yet somehow very peaceful. I sat and pondered the history of this tree, and all that it has seen over undoubtedly hundreds of years. Because my grandparents have lived here for 50 years, and because a small part of it still stands, I know that there used to be an old homestead to the right of this tree, but it has been abandoned since the 1970’s. There isn’t much left of that old place, just a small structure, nature has almost completely taken over. The place is now just a part of the county land. It belongs to the county, and they have just let the land exist as it is. People can come use the land as they see fit – as long as they are good stewards. The history of this place can’t be observed, as I said, it’s up to people to share its history, and memories. My grandparents are able to share the tree’s history, well at least around 50 years of its history, but not much more. I think the history of this place is important, but honestly the current situation is just as important. It’s a serene place where people can be alone with nature and enjoy God’s creation. These unseen things (the bugs, various creatures, history) don’t have as much of a large impact because this landscape is all about being in the moment, taking in what you are witnessing. However, it is still fun to sit and wonder just what all has happened at its roots.

A COVID Story

I interviewed a graduate student from the aviation program in Auburn who is currently attending a master’s program for community planning. He is an example of people who faced a life-changing event in 2020, and a little part of history.

I asked about his daily life in the current situation, and what is the difference between his pre-pandemic life. He told me that this is the first time in his life that he is trying to pick up pens to draw something. He stared his pilot training since he was in high school, he usually flies five days a week before the pandemic, and now he says he is a “weekend warrior.” He complained to me how difficult for him to actually draw something in the studio and he is on a topic that he “knows nothing about it!”

We also talked about how technology played a role in this pandemic life, he told me now he is dependent more on it than ever before, all the classes, job interviews, and most importantly, for entertainment. He said usually his entertainment was fly his plane, which was how he spent most of his time before the pandemic. Now he sits at his apartment, got nothing to do for fun, and the internet is the only thing that prevents him “going crazy!”

Before the pandemic, his life plan to work for some airline company that he had internship with. And when the Covid-19 hit right before his graduation, he knew that in the least five years there will be no major airlines would hiring any new pilot, and he told me “if I can’t work, why don’t I get another degree?” So after a rush research, he applied to any Master program that has the lowest requirements, which in Auburn, it was the community planning. After a little waiting period, now he says, “it’s not a bad one.”

He told me that he used to have a great plan. He was a good pilot with enough experience to start as an entry-level commercial pilot in some small airlines. And now he is studying a degree that he never thought about it before.

COVID did change many things, some people got lucky, but it is a historical event that affected everyone’s life. For him, it may turn his life in a whole different direction; for me, I did witness how a big event changed a small life. We always talking about all these historical influences, all the big History, and oftentimes we would forget the small history. The Big “H” history is exciting, they are famous, eye-catching, those big news we having today would still be the big History in the future. But the small “h” history is also the past, it could be my friend’s story, a post on social media, they are not notable, and probably not very important to the world, but they are history. We are the small “h” history. Most of us would never be remembered by the rest of the world, and most small history probably would be buried after the time. But I think this could be the fun of studying public history, which is to dig out the small history.

Ask a Public Historian: Ted Rosengarten

Dr. Theodore Rosengarten is a writer, Professor of History at the College of Charleston,  he specialized in race relations, Holocaust studies, and environmental history and consulted with museums, municipalities, public schools, colleges, and universities on projects relating to African-American history, environmental studies, and the Holocaust, since the 1970s.  He is also the author of my all-time favorite book All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw. I met Dr. Rosengarten at the event of “The Life and Legacy of Ned Cobb” in 2019, and I felt it would be very interesting to interview him. After a long time of exchange emails, I finally had a face time interview with him, which was a wonderful experience.

Q: What is your first interest in history and what made you choose to be a historian?

A: I was born and spent my first ten years, in Brooklyn, NY, the years immediately after WWII and if ever a child could feel that history was happening all around him, this was the time and place.  The two big dramas I remember from childhood were 1-a flood of refugees arriving in the city, in the very apartment building where we lived, in the aftermath of the murder of the Jews in Europe.  Whatever had happened had not ended emotionally for the poor survivors.  The word Holocaust did not exist and it was difficult to conceptualize the mass murder of a whole people to whom I was somehow related    2-the breaking down of racial segregation in baseball which, at the time was the only major sport, that was happening three streets from where we lived, in Ebbets Field, where the Brooklyn Dodgers played (now the LA Dodgers) and where Jackie Robinson was single-handedly integrating baseball and America.  The story of the Jews and story of the Negroes—the respectable term for African Americans at the time—seemed to me, as a child, to be threads of a single story that now, seventy years later, I am still trying to unravel.

And another event was the 1963 black church bombing on 60th street gave me a reason to study African-American history.

Q: I KNOW WHEN YOU FINISHED YOUR Ph.D. AT Harvard university, public history was a very new field. Do you think of yourself as a public historian?

A: Public history is a very old field that has only recently gone by that name.  Cultures and societies that build memorials, that engage in cave and rock art, that preserve legacies in storytelling and song are practicing public history.  To the extent that I am a public historian I am first an educator, I try to bring the power of literacy and research into the open, in writing that anyone can read, in exhibitions of historical artifacts that speak to the imagination, in classrooms, museums, and at historic sites.  I think of myself as a writer, a historian, and an activist, particularly when it comes to social justice.

I think myself as a educator first, then is a historian.

Q: You’ve spent your career in and out of the university. How have you balanced academia and more public work?

A: I never tried to climb the academic ladder or sought a job with tenure.  As a lifelong adjunct instructor I’ve put my time on campus 100% into teaching, formally and informally.  And my time off-campus into writing and editing, political activism, public school reform, and coaching youth sports.  Dragging my two sons with me at every step along the way.

Q: I loved your book All God’s Dangers, but what is your personal favorite history book?

A: All God’s Dangers is the work I live with every day, fifty-one years after meeting Ned Cobb. Which history books other than my own are my favorites?  Let me name a few.  Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina, from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (1739), by Peter Wood. Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth-Century, by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall.  Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America, by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall.  Throw in a handful of great European novels and you could lock me up in a room for a month with those books and bring me my meals.    

Q: I noticed you have done five city projects from 1998 to 2003, can you talk about some of your experiences in those projects, and what is your role in those projects?

A: I worked on a Marion Square project in Charleston, SC, which was one of my earliest city projects. Then there was the Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn, New York, it was a beautiful urban park near the Brooklyn Bridge and East River. I was the historian on the site which gave consultation to the architect and the design firm. Most of my job was to proved research information and gave advice. I currently working on a project in The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II in Markowa, Poland.

Q: In your long career, what is the biggest challenge or the most faced challenge?  

A: The biggest challenge I have faced as a historian of race in America and the Holocaust in Europe is using what I know to help move the world in a certain direction.  Practically speaking, after having some success in bringing improvements to elementary and middle school education in our majority-black rural district, I was stymied, stopped cold, trying to introduce changes to the local high school that would have allowed me to send my children there.  

Q: You worked on the Governor’s school in College of Charleston for eight tears, what do you think about this summer program for the high school students, and what did you learn from teaching them?

A: The Governor’s School at the College of Charleston brought the state’s top rising high school seniors to campus for six weeks—later reduced to four—of college-level work where it was okay to be smart, creative, and contrary.   Students and teachers loved the experience.   We all learned so much.   I learned that the great Russian writer Tolstoy was not kidding when he wrote an essay in his later years called, “Should We Teach the Children to Write or Should They teach Us?”  Ending this amazing investment in human capital was a crime against the people of South Carolina.

 Q: What is your opinion of the BLM and other activist calls to bring down monuments?

A: I support without reservation non-violent civil disobedience against police brutality and all racially motivated violence against black people.  That, to me, is the essence of BLM.  On the question of what to do about monuments that glorify the Confederacy, or are perceived as instruments and reminders of white supremacy, well, I’m not sorry to see them come down but my preferred solution would be to leave them up and raise monuments next to them that creates a dialectic and commemorate resistance.